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Amid Growing Cases of COVID-19 Within Prison Populations, the Death Penalty Continues

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

On March 23rd, it was confirmed by the Missouri Department of Corrections that an inmate within a Missouri prison had tested positive for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) (St. Louis Post -Dispatch).  The inmate was admitted on March 19 and he is being treated at a Kansas City area hospital. He was being monitored for a “suspected respiratory condition” and was being kept in solitary confinement at the Western Reception Diagnostic & Correctional Center in St. Joseph since March 4. (KCTV5).

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that, “all states have reported cases, all facilities should be vigilant for (COVID-19) introduction into their populations”.  In addition to this statement, the CDC has issued several guidelines and definitions outlining how Correctional Facilities should categorize practices and professions such as: social distancing, medical isolation and quarantine, the symptoms of COVID-19, Staff, and Incarcerated/detained persons. These guidelines are often riddled with phrases that imply that facilities should “apply these guidelines to their circumstances as needed” (CDC, 2020)

In Missouri’s Potosi Correctional Facility in Mineral Point, Missouri, Death Row inmates have reported that no personal protective equipment is being worn by staff nor have they been provided education about risks associated with COVID-19 from staff at this point. Much of the information inmates have received thus far has come from television sources and many have reported that they know too well that social distancing is not possible within Potosi Correctional Facility. 

Walter Barton, another Missouri Death Row inmate, is awaiting an execution date of May 19th, 2020 and is being kept in solitary confinement with no currently known contact outside of his legal representatives and prison staff. Walter is within the age range of those most impacted by COVID-19 and is confined to a wheelchair due to age. Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty have been calling for Governor Parson to grant him clemency since late February, 2020. 

COVID-19 has been interrupting the machinery of death across the Nation. In Texas trials are being delayed and two dates of execution have been given a 60 day stay. In a piece by the Marshall Project, Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, did not find the delays surprising. “Every state that intends to go forward with an execution during this health crisis will have legal issues, he said. “When you’re in the final weeks before an execution, access to a client is an absolute necessity and access to the courts is an absolute necessity. Where that access in impaired by a public health emergency you simply can’t go forward.” 

We are all living through an unprecedented time. Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty will continue to work during the crisis. We know this pandemic will impact the most vulnerable members of our community, incarcerated people and impact the work we do in unique ways. We will continue to fight to abolish the death penalty however is most appropriate during this crisis.  MADP is committed to continue our work to keep you informed of developments in Missouri in relation to death penalty abolition. 

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